Help me get a decent picture of my black lab.
June 17, 2006 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Help me get a decent picture of my black lab.

I'm not looking to become an awesome photographer, I just want some decent photos of my black lab. Every picture I have ends up being a set of eyes and tongue in a blob of black nothingness.

I need easy-non technical tips. Oh yeah, I'll be using an Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom digital camera, if that matters.
posted by saucy to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a good start.

Start with plenty of light. Force the use of the flash in addition - this will highlight the subject. Zoom in with optical zoom, but not the digital zoom. Pick the right aperature control on the camera. Focus.
posted by jellicle at 6:51 AM on June 17, 2006

Best answer: What you want is called "exposure compensation"; finding it on your camera is likely an exercise in manual-reading.

The camera looks at the light level and (since it's digital) does its best not to overexpose anything much at all. Anything in the background will cause it to thing the scene is bright, so the exposure is too little for the black fur. So you force the camera to expose more (say, 1 stop which is 2x as much light) and hopefully the dog becomes visible. This will mean overexposure on other things (background, tongue, etc).

A better option is to get the dog into really bright light, eg sunshine and make sure there are no bright objects in the frame, eg concrete or paper. Putting the dog on dark green grass can work well: what you want to do is reduce the total dynamic range in the image.

PS: I feel your pain. I have a black cat that is normally just a hole in photos.
posted by polyglot at 6:57 AM on June 17, 2006

If you can't figure out the exposure compensation then absolute light levels don't make any difference. Getting the dog out into bright light won't help. Here is how you actually do it:

1. Find a big window without direct light (eg north facing)

2. Seat the dog by the window on a dark background so s/he is well lit but without harsh shadows. Make sure that the dark background fills the frame.

3. Click
posted by unSane at 7:49 AM on June 17, 2006

Best answer: First rule of photographing pets and kids is to get down to their level, rather than shooting down on them from a standing position.
posted by fire&wings at 8:18 AM on June 17, 2006

If you have a bunch of unsatisfactory photos you have taken, you may be able to "fix" them with the dodging tool in Adobe Photoshop. Used with moderation, it helps bring out the detail in dark-skinned (or -furred) individuals by creating a slightly "underexposed" effect. The Photoshop tool mimics the effect, obtained in a darkroom, of holding something in front of the dark object during the enlargement process to underexpose it.

Here's some info on dodging.
posted by jayder at 8:51 AM on June 17, 2006

IANAPhotographer, but I happened to read this an hour ago. The white paper thing would be difficult, but maybe try a white sheet or drop cloth?
posted by namret at 8:58 AM on June 17, 2006

When I take pictures of my black cats with a digital camera, I first select a metering that will give priority to whatever is in the center of the frame. On my Canon S2 it's called "spot AE point" or "center weighted average". Then I aim at the cat, press the shutter button down halfway, and when I am ready (or the cat is doing something cute), press the shutter the rest of the way. You can see some examples here.

I only get good pictures when there is natural light in my apartment. Outside, my guess is that you'd want to avoid the noon sun.
posted by bchaplin at 9:37 AM on June 17, 2006

If you don't have a patch of dark-green grass handy, you could also put your Lab on a dark blanket -- navy blue or dark brown or such. Put that blanket on the ground outside on a day with overcast, bright light (i.e., it's cloudy in the middle of the day). Frame the photo so the only elements are your dog and the blanket. If you're using automatic settings on your camera, this will cause your camera to lighten up the whole image, and you'll get more detail in your dog's fur and eyes. Try it both with flash and without flash.

When you use automatic settings, your camera evaluates the entire scene and tries to expose it so that it balances out to middle tones. For an experiment, try this: using your auto settings, take a picture of nothing but a white wall. Then take a photo of nothing but a black wall. Both photos will come out middle-greyish. Once you understand this, it's easier to compose with your camera's brain in mind.
posted by lisa g at 11:13 AM on June 17, 2006

Lower the shadow contrast (on the camera or in Photoshop after the fact).

Black animals do not represent well in high contrast digital images.

See my Felinity & Caninity flickr set for some examples.
posted by Caviar at 12:22 PM on June 17, 2006

Does he like to swim? Notice how a lot of pros take pictures of wet labs? That's not only because it's a classic way to picture a sporting dog, but because a wet coat will show a lot more interesting highlights.
posted by timeistight at 2:06 PM on June 17, 2006

Something else that will help with your lab's overall shape: a back light (a light source directly behind the subject, but out of sight of the camera's lens) will add definition and depth to the overall shape. Similarly, a kicker light (same as a back light, except off to one side) will help with lighting areas in the shadow of the dominant light source. A brief glossary and helpful renderings.

The Poor Photographer's guide to backlighting: you don't need any fancy flashes or expensive equipment for a backlight. A well placed lamp, or even a big flashlight, will often do the trick in medium-light situations. If your dog is out in the sun, you can also use a reflector (or the poor photographer's substitute, a sheet of white bristol board) to bounce light towards the back of the subject. This is difficult to do without also getting the white sheet in the shot (and ruining the hopefully dark background you've set your dog against), but if you can manage it it might help with your shots. One trick is to take the shot at the dog's eye level, and lay the white sheet just below the shot.
posted by chrominance at 2:57 PM on June 17, 2006

I second the "wet dog" suggestion. The wet coat shines more in the sun. My boyfriend's black lab liked to play with hoses and sprinklers and we got some great photos that way.
posted by clearlydemon at 6:29 PM on June 17, 2006

I asked this very question of a pro at a photography workshop I attended last year. He said that black animals are an exception to the rule that outside photos are best done in soft light such as early morning, late evening, or cloud cover. Bright, harsh light really helps see the details in the coat and features of a black subject, so try taking pictures in bright sun with flash added for even more light. I got some good results indoors with my black dog by using two flash guns at full power from a few feet away.
posted by TedW at 11:29 AM on June 20, 2006

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